Thursday, February 22, 2024

“Getting Sponsored” • by Eric Fomley

Misha’s chest was tight when she walked into the tattoo parlor. 

The walls of the parlor were covered in holotat portraits, shining holo projections that displayed four-dimensional artistic scenes. Others were sponsorships from companies, big corpos that paid advertising fees in exchange for body parts to have their ads tatted on, as if the human body was a piece of land or real estate.

Misha knew she was in the right place, even if it was the last place she wanted to be.

The tattooist sat by an empty chair. He had dark, beady eyes that measured Misha head to toe, analyzing her as if her body was a canvas.

“What can I do for you?” The tattooist asked.

“I’m here to get sponsored,” she said.

His gaze seemed to get firmer, as if her response confirmed what he expected, but not necessarily the kind of tattoo he wanted to give. No one liked sponsorships. Misha would have done something else if there was another option for her, but the landlord was raising rent. She needed cash fast, and there wasn’t another way. She was already pushing a hundred hours a week at work, renting her unconscious body at night to do night shifts, and not to mention the contracts she owed on. The next step was to start putting her toddlers into debt, promising their future services to companies, selling time that wasn’t even hers. That was the option she wanted to avoid, at any cost.

The tattooist looked at Misha’s arms and legs, the only parts of her that were exposed. “It looks like you might already know what sponsorship entails. It’s a serious commitment. Whatever part you give to a company, it’s contractual. They ‘own’ you for the duration of the contract. Usually something like fifty years, maybe more.”

“I understand the consequences. I wouldn’t be here if I had another choice.”

“I didn’t mean anything by it,” he said. “What do you still have available to contract out and I’ll see what sponsorships I can get for you.”

Her guts twisted. “I want you to tattoo my face.”

His mouth dropped slightly open. “I wouldn’t recommend that. I’m sure you know that holotats to the face are illegal to give. Not to mention that the holotats are live images—they swirl and move. The projected image would block your entire face. You’d lose your identity. No one else would be able to see you. You’d be just a walking, talking billboard.”

“I know what I’m asking you to do,” Misha said. “But I need this in a bad way. Please.”

“Isn’t there somewhere else we could put this?” he asked.

“I don’t have anywhere else. I’ve sold it all.”

Misha’s arms and legs were covered in athletic brands, holos that swirled and showed images of athletes playing sports or different gear depending on the season. Her neck down to her chest was covered in lingerie and women’s fashion ads. Her stomach broadcasted pregnancy brands and contraceptives. On her back were labor tattoos from various factories that were hiring. Every portion of her body was sponsored by a company.

Corpos divided body parts based on how frequently they were exposed for someone else to see and gave it a price. Her face was all that was left to her, the most exposed. The most valuable place. Sure, she’d lose her dignity, but the money she made from that? She’d be set for a long time. The possibility for her kids to have an opportunity to start life without being owned by a company.

“You have nothing else? Nowhere? Not even a small space?”

She shook her head.

“It’s a huge risk for me,” he said. “I’ve never known someone to be arrested for having a face sponsorship, but parlors have been closed for less. I can’t lose my job. I have kids, a wife, and my parents’ contracts all counting on me. And once you sign a sponsorship contract, there’s no going back. Just a corpo logo blocking your face for the rest of your life.”

“I know,” Misha said. “It’s not like they’re giving me much of a choice. The landlord is upping rent, and I can’t make ends meet for my children. I’m working a hundred hours, renting out my body at night, and my landlord works just as hard as I do. To the corpo, we’re just property. But what future are we leaving for those who come after us? I don’t want to start contracts for my kids. I don’t want the world to own them. Not like this.” She waved a hand over her chest. “There isn’t a part of me that belongs to me. I don’t want that for them. Please. Help me. I won’t give you up if the police ask.”

The tattooist chewed on his lip. Misha knew she was asking him to risk his own livelihood on her word. She wondered for a moment what she would say if roles were reversed. She didn’t like where that led her.

“Not a word. To anyone. Ever.”

Misha whistled out a breath she didn’t realize she’d held. “Thank you. You don’t know how much this means to me. To my family.”

“Don’t mention it. Please. I understand what it’s like to have kids. How hard it can be. But after I do this, you don’t know me. Clear?”

“I won’t say a thing,” Misha promised.

“Then let’s begin.”

He stood and gestured to the chair next to him.

Misha walked over and sat.



ric Fomley's stories have appeared in Clarkesworld, Daily Science Fiction, Galaxy's Edge Magazine, and many other places including, of course, here on Stupefying Stories, where he’s been a fairly regular contributor since 2021. (We’re particularly fond of “End Program.”) You can find more of his stories on his website,, or in his Portals or Flash Futures collections. 

You might also want to check out our mini-interview with him, “Six Questions for...”, which ran last August.


Pete Wood said...

Well written. A rather disturubing start to my day.